Importance of Data Accessibility
Dominica experiences data poverty and data inaccessibility primarily due to lack of collective culture that values data collection and some capacity restraints. Given Dominica’s small economy and limited funds, data can help better identify problems and their solutions, and better design and plan infrastructure moving forward. Changing this culture requires educating citizens and government officials on the value of collecting data frequently and the data helps the ministries to better serve them. On the capacity end, there is enough technical expertise on the island to develop robust databases. However, it is a matter of realizing the talent that already exists on the island. Dominica cannot aspire to be the first climate-resilient country without properly collected and managed, frequently updated data to identify best-response tactics after a disruptive event.
Indian River shot by Daniella Rolle
The central database for Dominica, the Central Statistics Office, has a minimal scope of data with few data sets per ministry. The few available data sets on poverty are over or almost a decade old, making it challenging to assess the country's state today properly. 2007 was when the government did the last poverty assessment report. Since then, Dominica has seen two significant natural disasters, a Covid-19 pandemic, and an ongoing global inflation crisis due to the Ukraine-Russia war. It is impossible to gather the poverty level and how communities have responded to disruptive events over the past sixteen years without implementing a Country Poverty Assessment (CPA).
Due to capacity, the Housing and Population Census is conducted every ten years due to the "magnitude of its undertaking" (GIS, 2022). All statistics related to demographics have not been updated since the year 2011. After the natural disasters Erika and Maria, internal migration occurred from heavily damaged communities to new places on the island. It is imperative to measure the internal migration to update population statistics in parishes and assess concerns such as the potential for overcrowding and internal conflicts that might arise from the migration. Increasing the capacity of the statistics agency to be able to collect data more frequently is essential to be able to update the data used for policymaking. With climate change and increasing globalization, disruptive events (e.g., a climatic event or global pandemic) are expected to become more common. Dominica needs to have the data to be able to address them and rehabilitate them promptly.
Advertisement for the new census from GIS, 2022
There are numerous international organizations that collect social statistics in Dominica. However, these are collected at a national level and lack the granularity necessary for effective policymaking. For ministries to design appropriately targeted social assistance programs, ministries must have access to granular data on the most vulnerable communities on the island. I had the pleasure of speaking to Amonia Paul Rolle, who has worked as the social development planner in Dominica since 2003. She had mentioned that the limited collected data on socio-economic and demographic statistics are a major crippling factor to her work. Policy advice must be based on evidence. Without the data, there is little room to do the necessary work to make policy recommendations for social protection work. Without the required data being easily accessible, there is a reliance on external sources (e.g., CDB, IMF, and World Bank) for data. One of the problems with relying on external sources is that Dominicans cannot question the data and add their knowledge of socio-economic and demographic factors because there is no data they have collected to dispute or comment on results .
View from Fortune shot by Daniella Rolle
Data Bureaucracy & Collaboration
Sometimes, the accessibility of data, not the lack of data, is the priority concern. Dominica does not have a robust open database for the various ministries of Government. Ministries individually collect data, but there are no systems to ensure the sharing of this data between agencies and ministries with the Central Statistics Office. Therefore, individuals must contact organizations and ministries directly for data, making the process tedious and challenging. For research purposes, the challenge of getting the contact information of people with the data and the chance that they do not respond to your request leaves numerous gaps in reporting.
DOWASCO collects stream data; however, there is no platform on its website where the data collected can be easily mined by the public. For a farmer trying to assess more sustainable agricultural techniques, access to data on stream patterns could be meaningful to them. However, there is no realization of this potential collaboration. Asycuda Dominica is an application under Dominica’s Customs and Excise Division that collects data on imported goods. The data on that platform is not open, nor does it follow an open data policy. Craig Nesty, the national executive director of National Telecommunications Regulatory Comission (NTRC), commented on data accessibility for research on the island. For local analysis, access to the data is necessary, but it is a tricky proposition to get the data from Asycuda, even for accredited institutions like the state colleges and universities on the island. There are no public Application Programmable Interfaces (API) available to unlock such a rich resource of information to researchers and academia.
Craig Nesty noted that telecommunications companies collect data on their users but do not anonymize it because they do not have the resources or the initiative, making it inaccessible for research purposes. Anonymized telecommunications data provides a unique opportunity for tracking and understanding local migration patterns post a disaster. Understanding the distribution of cellular calls post Hurricane Maria, may have proven useful to understand the population distribution and emigration patterns, especially since no official census was done after the hurricane . Amonia Paul Rolle, a social development planner, pointed out that anonymizing data is critical particularly for small nations because it could be easy to identify a person's sensitive information in a data set if it is not anonymised.
Scenes at Chaudiere Falls shot by Daniella Rolle
Open central databases can prevent individuals from having to go to ministries to get data consistently. Open databases also save time and energy for ministries by not having to respond to individual requests. There was an effort before Hurricane Maria to establish a central open database platform called Dominode for geospatial data. Dominode worked closely with the Physical Planning department to make geospatial data publicly available. I spoke to one of the key members of the project, Jermaine Jean-Pierre to discuss the purpose of Dominode. She mentioned that it is a World Bank project funded initiative to make locating sites easier. Since Dominica lacks proper street names and signage in numerous places across the island, many locals use relative locations to get to places (e.g., take a left by the big yellow building). Promoting Dominica as a tourist destination becomes difficult without proper unique identifiers for locations if tourists do not know how to get to the sites.
Dominode was designed to help establish a database to use GPS coordinates to identify sites and hopefully be used by other platforms to make traveling across the island more tourist-friendly. However, when stumbling upon the platform, it is evident that the data is severely limited. The limited number of datasets is due to a couple of issues, one being the disruption of Hurricane Maria. Jermaine Jean-Pierre mentioned that after the hurricane, the focus on the island largely shifted away from Dominode as people had other higher priorities. Dominode could have been used to assist in mapping the newly changed landscape. However, due to limited financing, infrastructure, and lack of a clear custodian, the platform never reached its potential. In the future, it is crucial to designate a team responsible for collecting more data to update the data and manage the platform. Additionally, more geospatial equipment, a few drones and mapping devices, and more devices that can automate the information or data are necessary infrastructure to maintain the platform. To expand open data, Jermaine Jean-Pierre believes there needs to be a clear policy that speaks to open data and collaboration.
Another obstacle to data access is how it is collected and stored. Craig Nesty explained that for the government-led white potato farming project, the data for distributing the potatoes and the yields produced is all stored in a hand-written book. Collecting and storing the data in a physical copy makes it challenging to access and use for analysis. Not using a digital platform leads to efficiency issues because you cannot query the data and easily find specific data points in a book ledger. A physical copy is also subject to damage or loss in a natural disaster, such as flooding or fire. Craig Nesty stated that some agencies, such as the police station, use standard ledgers from colonial times because the laws may be too antiquated to promote and facilitate digital data storage. The outdated methods to store and collect data require a legal transformation in Dominica regarding the laws of agencies and digital platforms.
Many social issues are multi-faceted and compounding; therefore, an interdisciplinary approach is necessary for formulating solutions. Data collaboration is needed for ministries to access data relevant to their problems. When interviewing Craig Nesty, he spoke on the importance of data collaboration in Dominica. He previously worked as a consultant for the UNDP after Hurricane Maria. His team used Power Bi, R programming and GIS mapping to survey 30,000 (95%) buildings, collecting and analyzing data on the damage level of the building stock in Dominica. The severity of damage to a building was tagged as either red, orange, yellow or green and the building's GPS coordinates along with other parameters were also captured. All this data was stored on Microsoft Azure Cloud Data Platform. However, there was no process to transfer the data from Microsoft platforms to the government, making the data largely inaccessible. Having a process whereby data can be transferred between ministries and agencies smoothly in a format that makes the data easy to extract and be used is essential for making the best use of the data. Craig Nesty suggested that if agencies develop an API querying websites to get raw data in a txt file, a person can download it, conduct data analysis, and transform it .
Amonia Paul Rolle experienced similar challenges with accessing data from other ministries and mentioned that the Central Statistics database should be where all the open data should reside. Ensuring regular communication strategies between ministries and having proper data custodians would make data collaboration run much more smoothly. Amonia Paul Rolle believes that if a designated unit within ministries had adequate training to ensure that the data is in an accessible format and can report the data to the Central Statistics Office, then the bureaucracy of data sharing would be reduced.
Boeri Lake shot by Daniella Rolle
Accountability & Community Engagement
When there is an infrastructure for a public central database that holds all the data collected from other agencies, individuals can use their creativity to draw links between data sets that may reveal underlying issues that have not been recognized or addressed previously. With a mission of climate resilience, the government must provide spaces for open dialogue between communities to discuss problems that may not be obvious to the majority.
Open source data also functions as a means of holding politicians and elected leaders responsible for their governance. Demographic statistics, such as poverty and employment rates, are critical measures of a party’s effectiveness in power. Without access to demographic statistics or concrete evidence of what the current administration has accomplished, it is hard for constituents to assess whether the current national leaders are fulfilling their promises. Politicians may initially think that open data may hurt their image without realizing that data accessibility also provides an opportunity for constituents to see what the government has been doing effectively. Changing a culture surrounding data collection also is a means of allowing for a variety of stakeholders to be able to use the data to design better targeted interventions for social policies.
Figure 15 Infographic from International Development Research Center 2019
A key means of community engagement in development and environmental concerns is citizen science. Citizen science involves “scientific activities in which the general public participate to some degree in data collection, analysis, and dissemination” (Walker et al., 2020). Citizen science is a means for people to engage in their communities and the problems that occur within them. It typically relies on inexpensive methods for people to collect data and a means of training to ensure that best practices are used. Fostering citizen science helps to stimulate the innovative scientific spirit that was the origin of modern science. Prior to the professionalization of the scientific field, scientific endeavors were conducted by amateurs — “notably by such illustrious individuals as Benjamin Franklin and Charles Darwin in the 18th and 19th centuries” (Walker et al., 2020). Sherbin et al. speaks on how citizen science allows for communities to contribute to filling in data gaps and tracking the progress of government agencies. When communities can engage in the data culture, they can also use their creativity and provide aid in understanding some of the underlying social problems that may be difficult to discern initially. From an equity lens, it also functions to promote “the empowerment of communities to negotiate with authorities on service delivery” (Sherbin et al., 2021, p.4).
Without open source data, the country’s citizens are left in the dark being blindly led by politicians to what they are told to be the path towards progress. No open data means no dialogue about what the path of progress looks like for the everyday citizen. Data culture is incredibly important to identify and resolve issues pertaining to the ways communities and the citizens of Dominica are faced with the effects of climate change. Access to data and public participation in the process needs to be a piece of the foundation in strengthening Dominica’s path towards climate resilience. This is an aspect of resilience that Dominica needs to pursue more heavily in becoming the first climate resilient nation in the world.